"Hey, I can do that!"

Monday, March 1, 2010

That Takes the Cake 2010: "Maneki Neko"

That Takes the Cake 2010
1st place
Adult Beginner - Scuplted Cakes
"Maneki Neko"
(+5 skill points => 295 / 400)

I've had this idea for months.  I did 2 prototypes.  The prototypes looked like bizarre aliens, but this guy ... oh this guy just stole my heart!  I can't help but smile when I see him.
Maneki Neko.  a.k.a. "Beckoning Cat", "Lucky Cat", or "Money Cat".  This is typically a ceramic sculpture of a cat (usually a Japanese Bobtail) with an upraised paw beckoning to people passing by.  In Asian cultures, this sculpture is believed to bring its owner good luck and prosperity.  You may see these near the entrance of an Asian restaurant or market.
  • 2 8", 1 7", and 1 6" rounds of doctored white cake (WASC w/o the A)
  • tub icing between the layers
  • shaped with cake spackle
  • covered in Toba Garrett's fondant
  • decorated with extruded fondant
  • fondant coin
  • fondant ears
Here are a couple of the source photos I used to design my cat.

The cake needed to be re-designed so it could support the head and arm without needing additional support or materials.  Besides the ears and coin, my cat is 100% cake.  Here, I'll show you.

The carving was done with a serrated bread knife.  I tried an electric cutter, but it's too weak to really do anything.  My scraps were collected and run through the food processor to make crumbs.

Buttercream was added to the crumbs until it was thick but sticky enough for me to build up on the areas that needed to be festively plump.  Those areas were mainly his limbs.


After building up his muscles, the cat received a final coat of thin spackle.  My cardboard round underneath him was trimmed to fit him just right.  He's about 9" tall and 8" wide.  That's a lot smaller than my prototypes.  Ok, fine, I'll show you a picture of one of the prototypes.

Like I said, it needed a re-design.  It looked like a creature from a Miyazaki film.  The cat now is shorter with a smaller head.  He's squat and I tried to position his weight so it could stand for several days without tipping to any side.  The cakes were also a little over-cooked, which helped with stability.  There are zero cake boards inside this cat.  I did insert 3 plain wooden skewers for some strength, but I'm not sure how much they helped.

My trusty extruder made some red fondant into a twisted rope to serve as a nice collar.  You can see toothpicks supporting it as it dried.  Also notice the folds of fondant on his belly.  It's practically impossible for me to cover him in fondant without taking in a lot of slack.  During my prototypes I learned it was best to gather the excess in the front and trim it off.  His scars would be covered by his gold coin.

His features were initially painted with black gel mixed with Everclear.  Unfortunately the coloring bled into cracks in the fondant.  I re-painted him with melted watered-down fondant.  That made the black parts nice and glossy.  Instead of re-painting his face, I covered with markings with a thin snake of extruded fondant.  It made it more prominent and cartoony.  His ears were shaped lumps of black fondant with white triangles in front.  Inside were toothpicks to help support them as they dried when stuck on to his head.  I tried to fill in some cracks and imperfections with more melted fondant.  There just wasn't enough time to correct all of the bleeding mistakes.

His coin was a slab of yellow fondant that I free-hand cut and trimmed with scissors.  After it dried, I applied gold luster dust mixed with confectioner's glaze.  It had a nice golden shimmer.  The characters on the coin were extruded black fondant.  You might not be able to see it, but after glueing the coin to his body I inserted a toothpick through it and into his belly for support.  Kitteh not gonna drop his munneh.

The white parts were painted with a 50/50 mixture of corn syrup and Everclear (another trick from the cakecentral.com forums).  It was difficult to get the 2 to mix ... and don't take a big whiff of this stuff.  Everclear is hard-core ... the proof I got is even illegal in some states ... but not in Texas :)  This gloss will be sticky for a while, so let it dry thoroughly.  I doubt it tastes good.

The cake board was covered with a lovely print that I had from a package of Asian-themed cardstock pack.  The cardstock was covered with clear contact paper.


Several people I knew went to the cake show.  They told me how cute and awesome my cat was.  He certainly did have something special, don't ya think?  The judges must have thought so.  I won 1st in that category!  I knew he had a good chance in placing, but I didn't think he'd get first.  He really is my lucky cat.

The judges' comments:
We love this cake!  Very little flaws.  The black color is bleeding a bit in small places and the ears are not completely flush to the top of the head.  Gorgeous cake.  Looks like porcelain.  Incredible job!  Congratulations!



UPDATE (03/03/2010)
I've had a few days to relax and reflect on my entries.  Here's what I concluded.

  • I can't be sloppy when it comes to painting.  There's very little room for error, especially when painting black on to white.  My colors immediately bled in to the tiny crevices and cracks of the fondant.  I did come up with a better solution later (see FTWs).
  • The judges were right.  His ears were not flush with his head, and that might have been something I could have fixed.  I was running out of time and settled, but that is not something anyone can really afford to do in competition.
  • In fact, his ears were a complete after thought.  I had no idea how I was going to do this until "the day of".  They look too high up on his head ... I should have put them down more to the sides.
  • Covered facial markings with fondant.  Originally his facial markings were only painted, but it just didn't "pop".  It looked a little bland and boring.  After extruding the fondant for the markings on the coin, I figured why stop there.  This helped cover up some of those bleeding imperfections too.  This really gave him personality.  This was probably the best call I made for him.  Otherwise, I definitely would not have gotten 1st.
  • Painting with melted, watered-down fondant was neat.  All of his markings were originally painted with gel and Everclear.  His spots really just weren't dark or solid enough for my liking.  Black ended up being watery-looking navy.  I put a wad of fondant in a bowl with some drops of water and nuked it for 10-15 seconds.  I was able to paint over his markings with this thicker solution.  The new markings were more solid and even glossy.  I didn't have to paint over these sections with the 50/50 corn syrup Everclear.  That wouldn't have been a good idea anyway because the colors would run.
  • My extruder performed very well with my home-made gelatin-based fondant as well as Satin Ice Black.  There weren't any jaggies and it wasn't terribly hard to twist the handle.  I'm of the the mind that I would never have gotten these results with MMF.
  • I'm in love with the cardstock I bought.
  • Cake spackle is excellent for building up in areas.  I really didn't feel like making rice krispie treats for molding the cat's limbs ... I've never done it before and, well, that's just not cake.  A lot of the sculpted cakes in the show had rice krispie treat parts.  I figured having my guy being mostly cake would be more impressive.  Cake spackle is difficult to stick to a freshly cut cake, so you might have to gather some patience.  I couldn't get small pieces to stick to his head at all, so I ended up smooshing out pads of it and laying it on.
  • Bigger is not necessarily better.  My prototypes taught me that.  It was a good call to go small and focus on detail instead.  He was a breeze to carry in and out of the show.  I didn't worry about him falling during transportation at all.
  • In the end, you have to make something that reflects you.  I've read some competition tips that warned against making a cake that you think will please judges.  You have to please yourself.  I've been wanting to make this cat for months, and I'm so glad he came into existence.  I have no idea if the judges even knew what a Maneki Neko was (I didn't know his Japanese name until researching it last year), but he was mine and you can tell that I loved him.  Several of my friends told me that he really stood out at the event.  I wish I could freeze him and keep him forever!  Oh well, his pictures will have to do.
If you see a cat beckon to you, follow him!


    1. Thank you for sharing this - I love really love this little guy! I've always wanted to steal the Money Cat statue from our local Chinese takeout. You did an awesome job and should be really proud. What a great idea you had in using the cake spackle to form the arms. I'm certainly going to remember that for the future.

    2. Congratulations on your win! That cake is amazing!


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